Tony Garnett • Blog Posts

Remembering Jim Allen

jim-allen_300x438The screenwriter, Jim Allen, as the old saying had it, didn’t just want a few reformist crumbs from the table, he wanted the whole bakery.

As I’m remembering Jim, writing my memoir, in comes an invitation to his home town, Manchester, to speak about him. At Home, a new arts complex, the cinema is packed out at the start of a Jim Allen retrospective. No more than he deserves – one of our finest screenwriters and certainly the most political.

Showed The Spongers, a film we made in 1977, with Christine Hargreaves, Roland Joffe directing his first film. Watching it now all those years after, it felt contemporary. Shameful. It tells the story of welfare cuts leading to the deaths of a family, as the Silver Jubilee celebrations went on around them. Could have been taken from today’s headlines. Probably will still be contemporary when they celebrate the Golden Jubilee.

Labour government then. Conservative now.

I said Jim wasn’t just a socialist screenwriter. He was a revolutionary. At a time when it was fashionable to dress in cute socialist clothes and parade one’s faux anger to London aesthetes, Jim was the genuine article He knew in his bones where his class loyalty belonged. He knew in his head, through searching debate, the underlying causes of oppression and exploitation. He could never cross a picket line.

He used his words like clenched fists to illuminate social and political and economic truths. His screenplays were wake-up calls. He made other writers sound like lads on a man’s errand.

I found him in the mid 60s and told him that if he wanted to be a serious political writer he must get off Coronation Street. He did. We went to work. We fought. We taught each other. He grew in technique and power. He helped me to politicise Loach – and they went on to do even more political work, after I went to America.

Jim is an example to all those on the Left who are tempted by the Queen’s knighthood and the Hollywood dollar. He was steadfast to the end.

There is only one fight worth fighting. He went down fighting it.

– Read my obituary of Jim Allen, written in 1999